From the Chicago Tribune:
New Buffalo casino brings a crowd to Harbor Country
|Tribune staff reporter
- November 25, 2007
NEW BUFFALO, Mich. – First thing’s first: Gambling can be dangerous.Casinos, on the other hand, are fascinating.Think about it: Top-notch restaurants, well-appointed hotel suites, luxurious spa services, live entertainment, boutique retail outlets, free-flowing alcohol and, of course, gaming galore — in most cases, at all hours. Minus the whole “experience nature” thing, casinos essentially provide all the major amenities of a luxury vacation under one neon-clad roof.They’re also not without their annoyances: that steady hum of ringing slot machines tuned to the pleasant key of C major, which can get stuck in your head for days; and, despite advanced air filtration systems, the lingering stench of smoke.But it’s all part of the experience. Staying at a casino — even just for a weekend (I wouldn’t recommend any longer) — means immersing yourself in a culture that may be foreign from your own. Which, when you think about it, is the whole point.So, where to go? The obvious destination for experiencing casino culture is Las Vegas.
And then there’s New Buffalo.
About 2 miles from downtown New Buffalo (population 2,200) lies the brand-new $180 million Four Winds Casino Resort, which opened its doors Aug. 2. The place is huge. It boasts 130,000 square feet of “gaming positions” (actual seats at slot machines or gaming tables) which, were it located in Las Vegas, would make it the second-largest casino on the Strip; plus a half-dozen restaurants and a modest 165-room hotel.
And, when I visited two weeks ago, all of its grandeur seemed absolutely necessary, due to the sheer volume of visitors. As I approached the long, winding drive leading to the casino nestled in the woods, I encountered something I’ve never before experienced in New Buffalo: traffic. People were lined up in their cars, waiting to park in one of the 2,120 spots in the heated, four-level parking garage and commence spending money. And after hanging out for a few days, it’s easy to see why: The place is beautiful — and, perhaps more importantly, resembles nothing of the gaudy glam of Vegas.
Designed by Urban Design Group (which counts Disney among its clients) and owned by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Four Winds has the look and feel of a regal North Woods lodge, situated far enough back from Interstate Highway 94 that the “woodland retreat” facade is believable.
Just inside the entrance, a grand rotunda (on which a local Pokagon artist will soon begin a mural project) is flanked by two ridiculously huge fireplaces; the beams lining the arcades (leading to shops and a bus terminal at one end, the hotel at the other) were carved from dead standing cedar and birch trees, which are often used in tribal ceremonies for the Pokagon band.
At the heart of it all is the gaming floor itself, which, despite the refreshing lack of neon, looks like a casino (darkly lit, maze-like carpet, banks and bars at every turn), but the restaurants tucked within could stand alone — even in Chicago.